the show explores the modern discovery of the sari

Nearly 100 pioneering saris, including the first ever worn at the MET Gala, will be on display in the UK as part of a major new exhibition dedicated to the modern reinvention of the garment.

A first-of-its-kind exhibition at the Design Museum, The Offbeat Sari brings together more than 90 items loaned by designers and studios from across India to tell the story of what has been dubbed ‘a revolution in fashion’.

Conventionally a single piece of unstitched fabric, the sari reflects identity, social class, taste and function and remains an enduring part of South Asian life today.

However, clothing that was once considered traditional and uncomfortable by young people has in recent years evolved into a modern expression of identity and resistance. The exhibition explores how designers and artisans are changing the way the sari is understood, designed, made and worn in India today.

Specifically, it examines the moment the sari was first worn at the MET Gala in New York City in May 2022, marking the emergence of this garment on the global fashion scene. Designed by Sabyasachi Mukherjee and styled with a gold Schiaparelli bodice, this sari was worn by Indian businesswoman and socialite Natasha Poonawalla and made headlines around the world for its dramatic fusion of Indian and Western fashion.

This will be the first time the team has been shown in the UK and only the second time it was shown in Monaco last summer.

Other saris on display will include pieces from brands such as Abraham & Thakore, Raw Mango, AKAARO and NorBlack NorWhite, which the Design Museum said were “state of the art dynamic change and saree renewed meaning”.

Visitors will also see saris experimenting with materials and form by designers such as Amit Aggarwal, HUEMN, Diksha Khanna and Bodice. There are also examples of saree couture, such as Taruna Tahiliani’s foil T-shirt created for Lady Gaga in 2010 and the Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla ruffled version worn by Bollywood star Deepika Padukone at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.

Alongside these will be a range of styles seen on the streets of Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and beyond, showing young women in the cities embracing the sari.

Priya Khanchandani, curator of the exhibition, said the sari is undergoing “probably the fastest restoration in its 5,000-year history”.

She added: “This makes the sari movement one of today’s most important global fashion stories, yet little is known about its true nature outside of South Asia.

“Women in cities who previously associated the sari with dressing up are transforming it into fresh, radical, everyday clothes that allow them to express who they are, while designers experiment with its materiality, drawing on limitless creativity.

“For me and many others, the sari has personal and cultural significance, but it is also a rich, dynamic canvas of innovation, reflecting the vitality and eclecticism of Indian culture.

“With a population of 1.4 billion people, India’s importance to contemporary culture is immense, and the sari showcases the country’s undeniable imagination and verve while reaffirming the importance of Indian design on the world stage.”

Offbeat Sari has been running at the Design Museum since May 19 to September 17, 2023

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